Johnny Collinson at the Crested Butte FWT. Photo: L.R. Fielding.

Johnny Collinson at the Crested Butte FWT. Photo: L.R. Fielding.

By Derek Taylor

Freeskiing contests are like the movie Any Given Sunday. The open format for the Freeskiing World Tour and the huge number of talented skiers across the world leave open the possibility that a no-name could emerge and win any contest. At any given contest, any number of skiers could emerge as champion.

Snowbird, host of the World Championships since last season, seems particularly prone to this concept, often crowning a local who had previously spent time middling through the tour only to put it together in front of the hometown crowd.

Then, of course, we have this year. Angel Collinson has stormed through the tour unbeaten since taking second in the first stop in El Colorado, Chile. Lars Chickering-Ayers was on a similar tear before Kirkwood, where he was dealt a tragic hand.

The women’s overall tour title is already decided. After the most dominating season ever on the Freeskiing World Tour—one only rivaled by Ingrid Backstrom and Laura Ogden, and never matched—Collinson will get to keep the McConkey Cup. Look for her to win this event as well.

The real question is who will finish second? Jess McMillan is always a contender, but is skiing in her first contest since a serious neck injury. Fellow Jackson Holer Crystal Wright is one to watch as well. And let’s not forget about local girl Michelle Manning, who won a FWT stop in Crested Butte in 2009.

In the end, I see Wright stepping up to take second. For third, I’m going to go out on a limb to pick Vanessa Aadland. She qualified last in day one, but look for her to make a run in the finals. Judging by the photos coming out of Kirkwood, she’s recovered from her early season back injury. Aadland, a local to the ’Bird, likes to go big and the conditions at her home mountain should be good for it this weekend.

Women:
1. Angel Collinson
2. Crystal Wright
3. Vanessa Aadland
Dark horse: Michelle Manning knows this mountain well, and knows what it takes to win on the FWT.

Suddenly the 12 points Drew Tabke scored with a disappointing 13th place finish in Crested Butte are looking pretty important. Because of those points, Tabke can win the McConkey Cup by winning Snowbird. Indeed, all he has to do is finish ahead of Chickering-Ayers, who despite terrorizing the first two North American stops, leads the overall by only 7 points.

Lars Chickering-Ayers. Photo: MSI.

Lars Chickering-Ayers. Photo: MSI.

Drew Tabke. Photo: MSI.

Drew Tabke. Photo: MSI.

But while it looks like Tabke has control of his own destiny, the fate of the Cup really rests with Chickering-Ayers. The Green Mountain boy has been first or second in every contest he’s scored points in. In other words, the way he’s skiing this season, if he keeps it together, he podiums.

Making things even more interesting, Tabke and Chickering-Ayers are both past winners and know Snowbird intimately. Being the current leader, Chickering-Ayers will be shouldering the bulk of the pressure. Tabke, on the other hand, has been consistent most of the year, but has yet to win a contest. He won’t here, either. I see Tabke taking third… and stealing the McConkey Cup.

Chopo Diaz of Valle Nevado, Chile, competing in his first stop in North America this season, will follow up on his success in South America (a 3rd and 1st), and take second. Ted Davenport is my pick to win this.

Why Ted? Snowbird is a great venue that usually has good conditions, but it’s a venue that also likes to throw out surprises. Ted knows how to win a big mountain contest (evidenced by back-to-back titles at the World Heli Challenge), has solid skills, but has been waiting for his breakout on the FWT. Snowbird always seems to be that venue for someone (for reference, see: Tabke, Chickering-Ayers, Greener, Peifer, Wheeler…). This is Ted’s year.

Men:
1. Ted Davenport
2. Chopo Diaz
3. Drew Tabke
Dark horse: The Dubsatch Collective. Eighteen-year-old Johnny Collinson started off his career strong with two top-5s in South America, but has yet to score a point on the North American portion of the tour. This is his home mountain, and he wants this bad—which could be his downfall. One of these days, he’s going to put an entire contest together, and when he does… watch out. Meanwhile, Alta’s Sam Cohen has only competed in one adult contest (Revelstoke) and finished 8th (while winning the Sick Bird). Cohen is healthy and has been filming with Warren Miller for the past month or so. He’ll be loose, and has good mentors in Carlo Travarelli and former winner Ben Wheeler. Colter Hinchliffe, meanwhile, qualified third in day two, and promises to be a contender this weekend.